Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rating the Writers

For those who follow this and Cosmic Comics, this is the same column I wrote and let them publish, but I decided to run it here also.

I have always been more of the story guy and I decided for no particular reason to give my opinion on the current crop of writers that I pay attention to in comics. My criteria was I had to remember who they are without pulling up any website and they have to be currently writing stuff that I’m reading. In no order whatsoever:

Geoff Johns – God I used to want to grab and read everything he wrote as soon as it hits the stands. He was my number one writer just a short while ago. Somewhere between being named Chief Creative Officer and writing books to get to events Johns has slipped. His work is still good; it is just lacking that certain something extra. My best guess is over extended and writing to get to the event is making his work feel like it is treading water.

J Michael Stracynski – I’m very hot and cold on JMS. I enjoyed Superman Earth One, loved his Brave and Bold stint, enjoyed Wonder Woman and was bored to tears by Superman on walkabout. Still because of his pedigree with Rising Stars, Midnight Nation, Babylon 5 and Changeling I will check out his work. Plus I heard he is going to complete the Twelve and I love that series.

Ed Brubaker – Ed tells some great stories. I think his “noir” stuff shines the brightest (in an odd twist of fate) as that is where his passion lies. Sleeper, Criminal, Incognito have all been fantastic reads and his partnership with Sean Phillips is a high point for both of their careers. I also enjoyed Ed’s work on Batman, Captain America and Daredevil. I think the more “super” we get the less we are in Ed’s comfort zone. For me seeing Brubaker’s name as the writer is a sure fire method to get me to try out the book.

Jeff Parker – This guy is one of my bright lights of the MU. Jeff’s work from X-Men First Class to Agents of Atlas is always high energy and a lot of fun. I’m glad to see that he is starting to graduate from doing the lowered tier books and getting a shot at what I would classify as at least second tier books with Thunderbolts (okay tier 2.5) and Hulk. I would love for Marvel to let this guy go on Avengers. I’m so over Bendis and I think Jeff could bring so fresh perspective to the group.

Marc Guggenheim – Marc hit a home run with co-writer Butters on Halcyon and I have enjoyed his work at various times and have not enjoyed his work at other times. Right now I thought his first JSA issue was a good start and this new creator owned series was interesting so Marc is in my good gracious right now.

Scott Snyder – Is my pick for the writer who is the next rising star in the industry. Scott puts a lot of effort into his scripts and it shows. American Vampire is a series about vampires and given the over blown hype surrounding that genre I thought I would hate it, but I love this series. I’m betting right here and now he blows us away with his work on Detective Comics.

Grant Morrison – Grant is always swinging for the conceptual home run and he definitely thinks a lot different than the rest of us. At times his work is brilliant and the best of the best (All Star Superman) and at times I need a guide to understand the point of his story (Sea Guy). No matter what, his work is thought provoking and always worth the read. Grant has an incredibly long tenure and is consistently a writer I want to read.

Dan Slott – He made me want to read Spider-Man again! Dan has been flying under the radar for many years and in fact he did a great Arkham Asylum mini-series years ago for DC and then Marvel smartly brought him into their fold. Dan maybe just getting his chance to be a big star in the industry now, but he is ready for it.

Gail Simone – Birds of Prey and Secret Six are the two books I associated with Gail Simone and the quality of the work on these books always makes me willing to try anything she maybe writing. Sadly she is the only female writer that came to mind when I threw this list together. We need more female voices in the industry. I even give Gail credit for trying to writer Wonder Woman, which I think is the hardest book to write in comics and even she missed on that. Still Secret Six is the heir to the great Suicide Squad series from DC and Birds of Prey is back and Gail has two series that I look forward to each month.

Terry Moore – The man writes and draws Echo, which is one of the best series being published. Echo is a great science fiction novel in the best tradition of taking us to just a little into the future. At the same time the richness of his characters is astounding, I feel like I know Julie, Ivy and Dillon. Add to that the Strangers in Paradise series (that I read the first collection of) and you have a strong name for the indie world. Also I’m impressed as he is a self publisher and surviving, not easy in this industry.

Joe Hill – He only has the Locke and Key series, but his stuff is literate fiction like Echo, Scalped and American Vampire. Joe has crafted a great comic book series and I bet most people don’t even know he grew up in the shadow of his father Stephen King.

Christos Gage – Christos is one of those writers whose name I have been seeing for years starting with a Deadshot mini-series from DC years ago. He continues to be a fill in guy for Marvel on many series but was given Avengers Academy to run with and does some great work on GI Joe Cobra. Heck I loved his Absolution series from Avatar also. I expect to see Mr. Gage have a break out hit one day and it could came from almost anywhere.

Brian Woods – Demo, DMZ, Northlanders, DV8, Local and Supermarket is a pretty darn impressive resume for someone who never crosses over into the mainstream of the DCU or Marvel. Brian has carved out a niche for himself as an indie creator, but does most of his work for Vertigo. I’m willing to give any series he is writing a try and would highly recommend Local if you never read it.

Jeff Lemire – I love this guy. Sweet Tooth has become one of my favorite Vertigo series. When you add the first issue of the new Superboy series and I think Mr. Lemire is a triple threat. Artist and Writer, but at ease with both capes and his indie work (I classify Vertigo as indie work published by DC). If you want to see what got Mr. Lemire on everyone’s radar read Essex County the collected edition, a great story that is truly a heartfelt book that holds your interest from beginning to end.

Paul Cornell – From my vantage point this guy just popped up out of nowhere, but I know he was doing some Marvel work that James and Greg (fellow CCX panelists loved) and I’m sure he had some work in British Comics. I’m enjoying Action Comics, was turned off on Knight and Squire, but for now Mr. Cornell is someone to watch. It is too early to say if he will be a long lasting star or a flavor of the month.

Peter Tomasi – One of DC’s best editors changes over and immediately becomes one of the DCU’s best writers. Right now I think Tomasi is the best writer of the core DCU stuff. He has done great work on Nightwing, GL Corps and now Emerald Warriors and Brightest Day. His run on the Outsiders was the only time I enjoyed this latest incarnation of the book. I think he needs to be given the JLA.

AJ Lieberman – He is on this list for Cowboy Ninja Viking. It is the only work of his that I follow and I’m unaware of any other work he is doing, but this book has made me know who he is and I will be amenable to trying out another series with his name as the writer.

John Layman – Like AJ, he is on the list for one book Chew. Still it is such a great book that I look forward to any new ideas he may having cooking in his brain.

Robert Kirkman – Right now the darling of the comic industry and the uber-meister of creators owning their own work. It was only a few years ago when he was struggling with his work at Marvel and letting Invincible and I believe Walking Dead fall behind schedule. Now he has both books hitting on all cylinders and is the creative mind behind the hit AMC series Walking Dead. Add to that the fact the Walking Dead is the second best book on the stands and he is having the year of his life. Kirkman fits with his own books, he did not fit doing MU work. Oddly enough he was the writer on one of the mega hits of all time for Marvel and it involved Zombies, destiny!

Jason Aaron – The writer of the best comic book series being published, Scalped. If Jason did nothing else he would still be a phenomenon in my book. I challenge anyone to read the first three trades of Scalped and be able to stop reading the book. This book is dynamite and is the hardest hitting and rawest (from an emotional point) book on the stands. Add to that a very cool run on Ghost Rider, some decent work on Wolverine and Jason is an indie star with Scalped and a MU sensation with his cape and cowl work.

Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning – These guys write entertaining comics and stuff you want to read. Resurrection Man, LOSH and lately the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe. Nothing that has stood out as the best book ever or a top ten series of all time, but entertaining and fun comics that keep you engaged.

Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti – The writing team supreme behind Jonah Hex, Freedom Fighters and I’m sure a bunch of other stuff. Jimmy was famous for being partners with Joe Quesada back in the early days of his career and has been a great idea man for DC with his writing partner Justin Gray. Heck with Gray and his wife Amanda Conner they produced one of the best 12 issues runs taking a character from the “C” list to at least the “B” list as Power Girl was a critical darling and no longer just boobs.

Matt Fraction – I have tried to like “caption” Fraction, but he just keeps missing with me. I think he is a good writer and sometimes I have enjoyed a story or two by him, but I think he gets caught up in being too clever for his own good. He got way too cute with the captions in Uncanny X-Men and this current Thor run has some good ideas, but he is caught up having this regular human nerd character being a part of the mix. It could be a generational thing, but Fraction is someone everyone wanted to be a star and as far as his MU work goes he has yet to prove it to me.

Nick Spencer – Another rising indie star with Morning Glories being his claim to fame and now getting Supergirl and Thunder Agents from DC. Morning Glories is interesting, but it is not the next Chew or CNV. Thunder Agents had a good first issue and I liked what he did with Jimmy Olsen, but the jury is still out on whether Nick is a shinning or shooting star.

Tony Bedard – I used to avoid Tony’s work or at least not give a darn about it. Rebels changed all of that for me as this series has had a plan from the jump and it felt like the first work he was given to do with what he wanted. Often he was more of a fill the gap or pure fill in writer. Now he is starting to be someone whose work I like to read in Rebels and GL Corps. Tony has moved into my zone of a writer I will read.

Chris Roberson – Another rising star. His IZombie book is the heir apparent to Buffy and a joy to read. I love the whole cast of characters he has given us and the twist and turns this series has taken in just a few short issues. Now he has been tapped to write Superman from JMS’s story outline. Given how little I have heard his name that was quite a jump from Vertigo to a high profile DCU book. I hope it works out.

Mark Waid – Mark almost seems to be more famous for hyping stuff then what he has produced lately. Kingdom Come has always had a contentious history with him and Alex Ross, Flash was Waid’s best work and Potter’s Field was a very cool book. For me Irredeemable and then the spin off Incorruptible have suffered from trying to make a limited concept into an unlimited series and I have dropped both books. Perhaps Mark’s best skill set would be managing a line of comics as he proved by turning BOOM around.

Matt Wagner – Matt is currently writing Madame Xanadu and Green Hornet Year One, but will always be known for Grendel and Mage. I love Matt’s work and have enjoyed his Batman work a lot over the years. As an artist I think Matt was never the best, but his work was good and I think it helps him in writing comic scripts for others. Matt’s name on the credits is a guarantee of quality work.

Garth Ennis – If it is a war story and Garth is writing it, I will read it. Garth is also known for doing a definitive run on the Punisher, as the 60 issues Punisher Max run was a seminal piece of work for Garth along with Preacher. Garth can also go for pure shock value at times as he did with Crossed and Preacher, but it always seems to serve the story and is not shock for shock’s sake. Garth is a quality writer.

Bill Willingham – On the list for his Fables work, this book has been the project of his career. Bill was an artist/writer first and then became just a writer. His work in the DCU has been hit or miss, but still between Fables and co-writing Jack of Fables Bill has crafted one of the best runs and a large body of work that will, I believe, will pass the test of time.

Brian Bendis – At one time I used to like some of his work, but like Geoff Johns this guy is spread thinner then Olive Oyl (Popeye cartoon character). His dialogue on the Avengers book is horrible, but some of his concepts and ideas have reinvigorated the line and made it the center of the MU. I prefer his work on solo characters like Alias and Daredevil and I’m looking forward to his Moon Knight take, but I avoid his Avengers and group books like the plague. I wish he could provide plot direction and act as an almost story editor and let someone else actually write the Avengers stuff.

Mark Millar – Katy Perry is alive and well as a comic book writer. What I mean is that I see Millar as appealing to the lowest common denominator and believe that like a pop star his work will not stand the test of time. He is popular, but will ultimately be found to contain transfat and be banned by the FDA. I will give him credit with crafting some great action movie type of comics and giving us solid entertainment at times. At this point I have grown tired of his work and look to avoid it.

David Hine – This guy was doing some fantastic work with Marvel on the “Son of M” series and other stuff and then after he left Pietro was turned back into a good guy of sorts. He went over to DC and has slowly been given more and more work on “B” and “C” level titles with some fill in work on an “A” level book. If you never read Strange Embrace, you should check it out as this was the work that got David Hine noticed. He is an intelligent and thoughtful writer who I’m looking to break away from the pack when he gets the right series.

Rick Remender – Fear Agent is great stuff, his Punisher work has been interesting, but Uncanny X-Force maybe the book that puts his name on the map. It should have been Fear Agent, but the sales have never been that great, but X-Force started off with a great first issue. Here is hoping that the next issue and those that follow make X-Force a book I want to read for a long time.

Jonathan Hickman – Mr. Hickman had a home run with Nightly News and has in some ways struggled ever since. Jonathan was tagged as a super star way too fast and Bleeding Cool called him the next Alan Moore. I guess that means some great work and then he goes off the deep end and worships Snake Gods or something. Anyway Mr. Hickman has obvious potential as he has some cool ideas and concepts, but has yet to make it work 100%. I’m back on his Fantastic Four run right now hoping this will be his turning point from promising rookie to big hitter.

Jim Shooter - The man, the myth, the legend and at times the pain. Jim Shooter has been around the comic industry for a long time and I’m impressed as his latest work on Solar, Magnus and Turok is still rock solid. In fact the Turok launch was the best of the three. I have read he was a tough Editor in Chief at Marvel, but what shows in his work is a game plan. Issue one sets up the next issue and you can tell he knows where we are going.

And that is about it. I know with just a little bit of research I could generate a lot of names and I’m sure I have left off a few favorites of mine and a few not so favorite writers of mine. The bottom line is that even the writers that I don’t like their work have a high level of craftsmanship. The overall talent level for writing in comics has never been higher then it is today. A myriad of reasons entered into why that is true, better pay, more recognition, movies being made from comics, comics being written for an older audience and the list goes on. This is not to denigrate those who came before, because John Broome, Garner Fox, Arnold Drake, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and all the rest paved the way for us to be where we are today.

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